Energetics of Displacing Water Molecules from Protein Binding Sites: Consequences for Ligand Optimization

Julien Michel, Julian Tirado-Rives, William L. Jorgensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

A strategy in drug design is to consider enhancing the affinity of lead molecules with structural modifications that displace water molecules from a protein binding site. Because success of the approach is uncertain, clarification of the associated energetics was sought in cases where similar structural modifications yield qualitatively different outcomes. Specifically, free-energy perturbation calculations were carried out in the context of Monte Carlo statistical mechanics simulations to investigate ligand series that feature displacement of ordered water molecules in the binding sites of scytalone dehydratase, p38-alpha MAP kinase, and EGFR kinase. The change in affinity for a ligand modification is found to correlate with the ease of displacement of the ordered water molecule. However, as in the EGFR example, the binding affinity may diminish if the free-energy increase due to the removal of the bound water molecule is not more than compensated by the additional interactions of the water-displacing moiety. For accurate computation of the effects of ligand modifications, a complete thermodynamic analysis is shown to be needed. It requires identification of the location of water molecules in the protein-ligand interface and evaluation of the free-energy changes associated with their removal and with the introduction of the ligand modification. Direct modification of the ligand in free-energy calculations is likely to trap the ordered molecule and provide misleading guidance for lead optimization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15403-15411
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number42
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2009


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